Through the lens of identity, culture, and the urban imaginary, the thesis critically examines the discursive process of city making through everyday practices in order to understand how our urban context changes, and by whose influence.
The thesis positions cities as dynamic systems perpetually reproduced through negotiations. This perspective also fosters an understanding of cities as active sites of collective imagination, invention, and intervention. Positioned together, these frames contribute to a notion of perpetual urban transformation, shaped by active engagement and lived experience. To interrogate this further, the thesis begins by identifying a disconcerting pattern that has emerged in contemporary cities: the co-optation of diversity alongside reductionist notions of culture. The critique of this pattern is primarily in the way that notions of diversity are wielded by power structures, such as city governments or anchor institutions. Rather than offering the city as an active and pluralistic platform, diversity is constructed as a representation in the urban realm masking the richness of multiplicity and pluralism. This thesis aims to redirect this flow.
In collaboration with Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture, an arts and culture non-profit organization based in Philadelphia, a new idea of diversity touches ground. Through the design of an interactive exhibition embedding identity within the urban realm, on display from February through April 2015 at Philadelphia City Hall, along with interview based research, a proposal is made for new paradigms of governance of these important concepts. They can activate, and ultimately co-design, spaces of plurality toward urban transformation.
When thinking of cities as shaped by active engagement and lived experience, conversations involving multiple voices from multiple actors are possible. Strategic alliances prioritize complex identity as a foundation for diversity and cultural initiatives that might be able to consciously move toward inclusivity of multiple voices and aspirations.